Some say, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Either way the man will age and die. Men do not merely need a fishing rod. Men need resurrection.
Missionary activity aimed exclusively at a ministry of deeds offers the spiritual equivalent of a fishing rod. Jesus modeled compassion toward the poor and needy, and the Church must imitate Him. James 2:15-16 asks, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” Christians must meet practical needs. But when the Church contents itself to care only for practical needs the Church betrays its mandate.
If my missionary activity extends a man’s life but also withholds the words of eternal life, then I have only enabled that man to live in sin and rebellion a little longer. He will heap more guilt upon himself in a long life than he would in a short life. In either case he will die. No matter the amount of practical help I offer the end result will be the same. A single problem stands at the root of every man’s physical ills: sin. Sin causes disease, hunger, poverty, injury, and ultimately death. Unless my mission addresses man’s sin problem, all other help I provide only delays the inevitable. If I give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If I teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. But if I give a man Christ he will feast upon the Living Bread and live eternally.
The Christian Church cannot offer less than a charity or a philanthropic organization but it must offer more. No charitable organization on earth strikes at the root of poverty, disease, and hunger, but the Church must, offering not merely a temporary reprieve from physical suffering but an eternal resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ. He will eradicate all sin, suffering, and disease, finally putting death itself to death.
Man shall not live by bread alone, and he will never live eternally by learning to bake. The Church must proclaim Jesus Christ, not merely for eternal spiritual life but for eternal physical life as well. Only one cure suffices for all of man’s physical maladies: resurrection. Only Jesus provides it.